Personal Growth

How to Fight Lust and Love Jesus (Part 1)

by Chris Pennington

closeup of a dragon breathing fire

There once was a village terrorized by a great dragon. When inside the walls, you were safe. But should you find yourself traveling alone, the dragon would attack.

No one could beat him alone, and everyone in the village bore the scars of battle with the beast. Despite their common plight, however, the people almost never mentioned the dragon. If someone whispered about the beast to a friend, they’d usually receive the hurried reply, “Well, we all struggle with it.” And that was that.

They seemed to find comfort in their shared experience so long as they didn’t share it. They thought it better to pretend the dragon didn’t exist or to make a hurried confession to defeats with the quickly-appended, “Well, we all struggle with it.” And so it happened that every man and woman was isolated, shamed, and alone—and that was that.

A Shared Isolation

I share that story because it conveys the folly of our typical approach to lust. So many of God’s people—men and women—experience the isolation of falling pray to lust, an isolation marked by guilt and shame. Even if we admit our defeats, we’re quick to slink back into the crowd for anonymity’s sake, because “we all struggle with it.”

Today, let’s gather in the village square and stop pretending. Let’s stop seeking tacit comfort in our shared experience or using those experiences as an excuse. Let’s stop seeking individual glory brought on by solo fights. Let’s stop telling ourselves we can fight alone or that we’re strong enough. Let’s shine a light in the dark and fight together.

Strategy 1: Play a Better Song

Most of us fight lust only by setting up roadblocks to lust. We put a filter on our internet or have a strict accountability system. Let me be clear: roadblocks can be an important factor to saying “no” to lust.

The most powerful defense against lust, however, isn’t web filters. It’s love. Lust is the cheap knock off to love’s genuine artifact. Ultimately, then, we need to counter the cheap substitute with the substance. Our hearts need to hear a better song so that the song of lust loses its pull.

Ancient mythology provides two poignant illustrations for countering lust. In the first, Odysseus, the famed warrior, is traveling home from the Trojan War. They find themselves in a treacherous sea filled with dangerous Sirens (bird-women known for seducing sailors with their singing). The allure of the Siren song would hypnotize the strongest of sailors, leading them to their death. To counter the pull of the Sirens, Odysseus tied himself to the mast with strong ropes to bind himself to the ship. This strategy worked and allowed him to get some pleasure from the song while avoiding its deadly result.

In the second story, Jason, the leader of the Argonauts, faced the same treacherous waters. Like Odysseus, he knew he would succumb to the Sirens, so he brought along Orpheus, a skilled player of the lyre to counter the enchantment of the Sirens. When they approached the dangerous bird-women, Orpheus played and sang a song so beautiful that the Siren song could not compete. In other words, Jason countered the cheap counterfeit with something more true, beautiful, and satisfying.

Lust promises unending pleasure and gives you the shell. But real pleasure waits for you in God and his good gifts. C.S. Lewis puts it like this:

It would seem that Our Lord finds our desires not too strong, but too weak. We are half-hearted creatures, fooling about with drink and sex and ambition when infinite joy is offered us, like an ignorant child who wants to go on making mud pies in a slum because he cannot imagine what is meant by the offer of a holiday at the sea. We are far too easily pleased.[^1]

Dwell on the face of Jesus Christ and take in his incomparable beauty (2 Cor 4:4–6). Savor his glories and they will transform you bit-by-bit (2 Cor 3:18). You will find that even the great sufferings of fighting sin are not worthy to be compared to the glory, the weightiness, to be revealed to us in Christ (Rom 8:18).

Here are a few practical ways to savor the glories of Jesus:

  • Read the gospel accounts, Psalm 22, Isaiah 40, Isaiah 53, Ephesians 1, Hebrews 1, Revelation 4–5, and other similar passages carefully and repeatedly. Ask the Spirit of God to cause you to rise in belief and love, to illuminate your heart to Jesus’s incomparable, all-satisfying beauty.
  • Surround yourself with Christians in your local church who will point you to Jesus. You are meant to live in a community and each believer in your church is a gift from God to you.
  • Engage in purposefully-long seasons of prayer filled entirely with meditation on Jesus’s beauties to drive you to deep love for him.[^2]
  • Read books that declare Christ’s glories like The Incomparable Christ by John Stott.

Strategy 2: Fight Together

One of my favorite scenes in The Chronicles of Narnia takes place deep underground in an evil realm ruled by the Lady of the Green Kirtle, the evil sorceress queen. A group of travelers—a boy, a girl, and their guide, Puddleglum—are trapped in her kingdom and she attempts to enchant them to forget the “Overworld” and become her servants.

She casts some green powder into a fireplace and the room quickly fills with a magical haze. Enchanting them with a song and her words, she slowly persuades the travelers that the Overworld is a fiction of their imagination. Yet in the final moments before her enchantment entraps them forever, Puddleglum thrusts his bare foot into the fire, breaking the spell and awakening his enchanted fellow travelers.

You can play that fiddle till your fingers drop off, and still you won’t make me forget Narnia … I’ve seen the sky full of stars. I’ve seen the sun coming up out of the sea of a morning and sinking behind the mountains at night. And I’ve seen him up in the midday sky when I couldn’t look at him for brightness.

Inevitably, you will fall under the spell of sin. You will succumb to the lures of temptation. In those moments, someone in your community needs to stamp out the fire. Someone in your community needs to point to the glories of Jesus. Someone needs to step up and speak the truth with boldness and in love.

God gifts each member of the body to the other so that they work together towards full maturity (Eph 4:16). Sometimes, God will use you to remind your fellow travelers of the glories of Jesus (so be ready!); and often, God will use your fellow travelers to point you to Jesus.

If you’ve tried to fight sin alone, it’s time to turn to your church for help. Here are a few practical tips to get you started:

  • Call, text, or email your pastor right now and ask to meet. Share your areas of struggles with him (lust, selfishness, deception, etc.) and ask for prayer and counsel. Pastors love sheep and love caring for them.
  • Take a step towards openness and accountability with men in your church. If you have a men’s Bible study, take a moment and express your desire to fight sin together, to join together in your pursuit of Christ with other men in your church.
  • Start a formal accountability relationship with someone in your church.
  • Start a Bible study with another man in your church. I’m all for formal studies organized by your church, but I’ve often found that people respond much better to one-on-one studies through a book of the Bible. Pick a book, break it up into 5–8 parts, and meet once a week. That’s it. You can do that! Observe the glories of Christ and meditate on them together. Write down your collective questions and bring them to one of your church elders or a mature believer in your church.

A Few Concluding Thoughts

A few birthdays back, I sat down with my wife and told her, “This year is the year I want to strangle lust. I’ve fought lust for years but I’ve also always tried to indulge in it just a bit. I’ve let my mind wander and then only stopped some obvious action of lust. But I’m ready to kill it in its infancy. I’m done putting a governor on lust; I want to destroy it and keep destroying it.”

These posts are intended to be a call to war, a call to killing lust, a rally cry to rise as men together. Are you ready for that battle? As long as you give it some ground, as long as you let it come up for air, sin will always cling to life and give you death. I know of no greater practical help than that Spirit-fueled determination to “be killing sin.”

Even at the outset, though, remember that you’re not fighting primarily to remove something from your life (i.e. lust). You’re running after a Person, and his name is Jesus. You’re fighting to see the One who fills you with joy unspeakable and full of glory (1 Pet 1:18). You’re striving for “holiness without which no one will see the Lord” (Heb 12:14).

And that One, Jesus, commands, empowers, governs, and wins your fight. He is the Victor, the Author, the Founder, the Finisher of your faith. His conquering guarantees yours. The only ones who finish the battle with their eyes still on Jesus are those who start the battle that way.

When you fight any sin, you’re not primarily running from something; you’re running to Someone! Let’s run to Jesus together!

This is part one in a series of posts on fighting the sin of lust. There are inevitably more areas of focus than I can cover in a few short posts and more wisdom and insight than I know or can share. Share your own comments below. Let’s gather in the village square and begin the discussion now.

Note: Read Part 2 here.

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